Australian Open 2014: Dominika Cibulkova faces a tall order in beating Li Na in the final
The 5ft 3in tall player can become the first Grand Slam singles winner from Slovakia with victory on Saturday
Considering that she is only 5ft 3in tall it might seem inappropriate to suggest that Dominika Cibulkova has grown with every match en route to the Australian Open final, but the 24-year-old Slovakian will end the tournament with her stature in the game enhanced, whatever the outcome of her meeting with Li Na.
Cibulkova began the event having reached only one Grand Slam semi-final – at the 2009 French Open – and with a reputation as a player who was not quite good enough to live with the best. In the last fortnight, however, she has steamrollered four higher-ranked opponents in Carla Suarez Navarro, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska and dropped only one set in her six matches.
Having had several coaches in her career, she gives much of the credit to the present incumbent, Matej Liptak, who has been working with her for more than a year.
“I think I am more mature,” Cibulkova said. “All my coaches have helped me a lot, but he’s got to the stage that now I know that I have to do the right things. I want to do it. It’s not a case of somebody pushing me to do something and I didn’t understand why. Now I think he’s working with a much more mature Domi. That’s why all the things can come together.”
Slovakia has produced some fine players, such as Miloslav Mecir and Daniela Hantuchova, but Cibulkova is aiming to become the first from her country to win a Grand Slam singles title. She would also be one of the smallest, but can take heart from other players of similar size who have enjoyed success.
Asked if she knew of Amanda Coetzer, the 5ft 2in South African who made the semi-finals here in 1996 and 1997, Cibulkova said: “I think she was still playing when I started. I cannot say I was looking up to her, but I knew she was really little, that there are some players that can do it that are so little.”
What Cibulkova lacks in height she more than makes up for with her ferocious will to win. “I’ve had that since I was a little kid,” she said. “When I play my best tennis, that’s where you can see the power and the fight. You have to have something extra if you want to be one of the best tennis players and you are not the tallest.”
Li, nevertheless, will start the final as the warm favourite. The 31-year-old Chinese has finished runner-up here twice, in 2011 and 2013, and over the last 12 months has added variety to her consistently effective baseline game. Beating the world No 4 will be a tall order for her diminutive opponent.
A wrist injury has forced Laura Robson to withdraw from Britain’s Fed Cup squad to play in Hungary in Europe Africa Zone Group One next month. The British No 1 will be replaced by Jocelyn Rae, who joins Heather Watson, Johanna Konta and Tara Moore in the team to take on Hungary, Latvia and Romania in the group stages.
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